Stock market volatility could pick up in the week ahead, as traders await the Federal Reserve and watch to see whether the shakeout in tech and momentum stocks continues.
The Fed begins its two-day meeting Tuesday and is expected to raise the range for the fed funds target rate by a quarter point Wednesday afternoon.
Fed officials should also give a nod to the fact that inflation is weaker but that they remain confident about the economy. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is also expected to talk more about how the Fed could move ahead to pare back its massive $4.5 trillion balance sheet later this year.
The stock market had a relatively quiet week until Friday — when big-cap tech and other high-flying momentum names plummeted, taking the Nasdaq down 1.8 percent. The Dow closed at a new high on the same day. The selective selling came as investors put fresh funds to work in financials and energy.
Big-cap tech names were hard hit after leading the market higher for weeks. Goldman Sachs, in a report on valuations, said Facebook, Apple, Amazon.com, Microsoft and Alphabet [Google’s parent] are equal to 13 percent of the S&P 500 but provided 40 percent of the gains so far this year. Goldman analysts questioned the group’s valuations and said the volatility in those stocks had become so low that they were less volatile than safe-haven plays, such as utilities. Even with a 3.2 percent loss Friday, Facebook was still up 30 percent for the year.
“What we’ll have to see is whether that loss of momentum will bleed over into other sectors, and, to that respect, what the Fed says and how their body language is becomes even more important,” said Julian Emanuel, equity and derivative strategist at UBS. “We will want to see reassurance that the economy is on track.
“It’s a change in sentiment that in the near-term, at a minimum, stops the momentum,” he said. “We have to see if there’s downside follow-through in the next week.”
There is also a slew of data, but two very important reports — CPI and retail sales — will be released just hours ahead of the Fed’s 2 p.m. rate decision.
Core consumer price index is expected to be up 0.2 percent, for a year-over-year advance of 1.9 percent, just below the Fed’s 2 percent target. The PCE deflator, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, is running even lower, close to 1.5 percent. Retail sales are expected to rise just 0.1 percent.
The concern has been that a batch of softer-than-expected data is signaling a sluggish economy in the second quarter. Economists forecast growth at about 3 percent, but their forecasts had been higher.
Strategists say the Fed could say more about inflation based on the CPI data, but it’s unlikely even a very weak report would deter the Fed from hiking interest rates.
Emanuel said if the Fed sounds neutral or more hawkish that will be a positive for the stock market rotation that started in the past week with funds going into financials. The sector was up nearly 2 percent Friday, while tech sold off, and it gained 3.6 percent for the week.
“We actually think it will be tough for them to be more dovish than what the market is pricing,” said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. short rate strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“If you look at the expected number of hikes over the next couple of years, it’s pricing in a slow path. They’re not pricing in a lot of concern about runaway growth or inflation any time soon.” Cabana said the market is pricing in a full rate hike for June but only a 45 percent chance of a second hike by the end of the year.